Every Day Should Be Thanksgiving Day

Then as He entered a certain village, there met Him ten men who were lepers, who stood afar off. And they lifted up their voices and said, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!”

So when He saw them, He said to them, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And so it was that as they went, they were cleansed. And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, returned, and with a loud voice glorified God, and fell down on his face at His feet, giving Him thanks. And he was a Samaritan. So Jesus answered and said, “Were there not ten cleansed? But where are the nine? Were there not any found who returned to give glory to God except this foreigner? And He said to him, “Arise, go your way. Your faith has made you well.”   (Luke 17:12-19)

In this Gospel lesson we learn about something that Jesus values.  Something He expects to find in us.  What is it?

Gratitude

Jesus values a heart that is grateful for the blessings it has received.

St. Paul exhorts us to give thanks in every circumstance (1 Thessalonians 5:18).  Yet, we often wonder how that is possible.  The ancients believed it possible because they saw gratitude as well as happiness as a choice we make in life, not a response to circumstances.  They cultivated happiness and gratitude in their inner selves so that they could have them no matter what circumstance they found themselves in.  For us on the other hand, we seem to think that happiness and thankfulness come to us from outside ourselves.  Thus we blame friends, family, spouses, neighbors, and country when we aren’t happy.  We somehow imagine it the job of everyone else to make us happy.  In the ancient world, they knew better than that.  They knew the truth that happiness and gratitude were a chosen way of life, not dependent on circumstances.  Despite all our advances is science and technology, the ancients still knew things we do not.  No wonder drug abuse and addiction are so prevalent in our culture.  We are demanding the external world make us happy and thankful.  We see ourselves as the victim of circumstances, rather than doing the hard work to chose happiness and gratitude as how we want to live and be.

Our God wants us to have an inner disposition of thankfulness.  That is one of of our tasks in life.  Be people who chose gratitude and happiness as your perspective on the world rather than a reaction to what is happening.

Gratitude means to be thankful for what we have received.  In Luke 17:12-19, 9 of the 10 lepers who were healed did not stop and give thanks to Christ.  All ten found their voice when they wanted to request something, but only one thought it right to come back and give thanks.

They lacked the virtue of gratitude.

Sadly, giving thanks does not occur automatically even when we receive what we want.  All day long most of us are receiving some things that we want, yet we are not thankful for these things.  We don’t thank everyone who gives us what we want.  We fail to be thankful if we have any food to eat, or a bed to sleep on  or clothes to wear.   We take it for granted that there should be heat in the buildings and running water and paved roads and the trash removed.   We want these things, and when we get them, we feel no gratitude.  Thankfulness is not an automatic human response, we have to cultivate it.

Disciples of Christ are to be thankful people. We are to be thankful for everything, even for the things we pay for and  also in the times when things fail us.

In the Gospels, we see Jesus Himself giving thanks:

Just before feeding the thousands when He multiplied the loaves and fishes in    Matthew 15:36:

he took the seven loaves and the fish, and having given thanks he broke them and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds.

Just before raising His friend Lazarus from the dead in John 11:41-42:

So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, “Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard me. I knew that thou hearest me always, but I have said this on account of the people standing by, that they may believe that thou didst send me.”

Christ gave thanks to His Father for the things His Father had hidden and for the things He had revealed in Matthew 11:25-26:

At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to babes; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.

And of course, and perhaps most famously, Jesus gave thanks at the Last supper, Matthew 26:27:

And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.

Jesus knew he was going to be murdered.  And on that very night in which he knew he was to be betrayed, arrested, denied, tortured and executed, he still sat with His disciples and gave thanks to God!

In imitation of Christ we too give thanks for everything.  “Eucharist” means thanksgiving, we thank God for that night in which Jesus was tortured and executed.  We join in with the disciples in receiving Christ’s Eucharist at each and every Divine Liturgy.  We participate in Christ’s thanksgiving.

Sixty-seven times some form of the word “thanks” appears in the New Testament.

Did the apostles only give thanks only because things were going good for them?  NO, they gave thanks in times of suffering as well.

In Acts 5:41, we read:

Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name.

Think of St. Paul and how often he gives thanks to God even though constantly suffering.  In Every single letter of St Paul, he offers thanks.

Acts 27:35-36 in the midst of shipwreck and sea disaster St Paul takes time to offer thanks:

And when he had said this, he took bread, and giving thanks to God in the presence of all he broke it and began to eat. Then they all were encouraged and ate some food themselves.

Let your hearts and minds be filled not with complaints, criticisms and accusations against one another but rather be filled with thanksgiving, always for everyone and everything.    We should embrace the attitude expressed in the AKATHIST: Glory to God for All Things.   And we should remember the words of the Apostle Paul in Philippians 4:6:

Have no anxiety about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.

Let Us Lift Up Our Hearts

“But let us return to Psalm 24. ‘To you, oh Lord,’ it says, ‘I lift up my soul; in you, my God, I put my trust.’ Truly, the rest of this psalm, concerned entirely with prayerful trust, may be read simply as commentary on the first verse.

At each service of the Divine Liturgy, going back at least the Apostolic tradition of Saint Hippolytus near the beginning of the third century, when the priest commences the central Eucharistic benediction (corresponding to the Hebrew berakah), he turns to the congregation to exhort them to intensify their prayer: ‘Let let us lift up our hearts!’ (Ano skomen tas kardias is the lovely Greek original.) In the ancient Latin version, this exhortation becomes more succinct: Sursum corda, Hearts up!” A congregation of elevated hearts is the proper context for that great act known simply as ‘The Thanksgiving,’ Eucharistia (the priest’s next line being ‘Let us give thanks to the Lord our God!’).”

(Patrick Henry Reardon, Christ in the Psalms, p. 47)

The lifting up of the hearts is reminiscent of Christ’s words in John 3:3 in which He says we must be “born from above” to see the Kingdom of God.  Although in English this text is often translated “born again“, the Greek uses a root word that is the same in John 3:3 as in the hearts being up.  Literally the Greek text in the Liturgy does not have the word “lift” in it at all, but more simply says:  “let us have the hearts on high.”  In other words, let our hearts be born with this heavenly birth which Christ taught.  The English Bibles, probably under the influence of Protestantism, change the text to speak more about a one time “conversion” (born again) by the Holy Spirit whereas in Orthodoxy it is a constantly renewed life, living not just for this world, but embracing the heavenly/spiritual life in this world in the Church as the hoped for pattern throughout our daily lives.  Our hearts are being transfigured and transformed by the Holy Spirit into being one in and with the Body of Christ.  This transformation in Christ by the Holy Spirit of our hearts is also the ongoing work of the spiritual life outside of the Liturgy.

So in Orthodoxy, a starets, one whose life is visibly transformed by Christ becomes the spiritual father to his disciples.  “In the words of Igor Smolitsch, the great warm heart of a starets revives the shrunken, frozen hearts of those who flock to him; his perfected will reforms and sustains the imperfect wills of those who place themselves under his guidance”  (Iulia De Beausobre, from Russian Letters of Spiritual Direction, p. 7).  The upward call to our hearts is an ongoing transformation that we experience throughout our lives.  In the Liturgy we are reminded that this is to be our daily experience of life itself.

Receive the Body of Christ

“When Christ comes into us, he does not sanctify our soul alone but our whole being. For by Holy Communion, ‘Body [is mingled] with body, Blood with blood…What great mysteries are these! What a miracle, that the mind of Christ should become one with our mind, that His will should be amalgamated with our will, His Body with our body, His Blood with our blood! What is our mind like when the divine mind prevails over it; what is our will like when the divine will predominates; and what becomes of the dust [our body] once the fire [of the Godhead] overcomes it!’ (St. Nicholas Cabasilas).    The distribution of the pure Mysteries ‘makes those who partake worthily to be similar – by grace and by participation – to Him who is the causal Good’ (St Maximus the Confessor).

. . .  St. Symeon the New Theologian extols the Lord after Holy Communion:

‘What is this measureless compassion of Yours, O Savior?

How have You accounted me worthy to become one of Your members

– I who am impure, a prodigal, a harlot?

How have You dressed me in a garment most bright,

glistering with the radiance of immortality

and making all my members into light?

For your Body, pure and divine,

is wholly radiant, wholly intermixed

and commingled ineffably with the fire of Your Divinity…

I have been united, I know, also with Your Divinity

and have become Your most pure Body,

a member shining forth, a member truly holy,

a member glittering from afar, and radiant, and shining.'”

(Hireomonk Gregorious, The Divine Liturgy, p. 297-298)

Worthy to Receive the Body of Christ

Chrysostom also proves the importance of the forgiveness of sins both in the context of the assembly in the wilderness and in the Liturgical Assembly. He points out that the forgiveness of sins was essential to the Israelites before they could safely and beneficially partake of the manna and drink, just as it is essential to the members of the Ecclesial Community before they can receive the Mysteries of Christ’s Body and Blood.

Moses leads the Israelites in the desert

As long as they [the Israelites] honored the equal distribution of their goods, the manna continued to remain manna. However, when they decided to be greedy, greediness made the manna become worms. Indeed, with this behavior they did not harm others because they did not grab from the food of their neighbor in order to have more than their neighbor; but they were condemned because they desired more. Even if they did not commit injustice toward their neighbor, they hurt their own selves very much because, with this manner of assembling together, they habitually continued to dwell in greediness. Therefore, the same manna was simultaneously admonished [educated] their souls. It not only nourished them, but delivered them pain.

If a Christian joins the Liturgical Assembly and receives the Body and Blood of Christ unworthily and without repentance, the Body and Blood of Christ will lead to his judgement and condemnation, like the manna that became worms to the greedy Israelites. The members of the Church must free themselves of greediness and other evils through repentance, and consider themselves as equals, before gathering together to constitute the Liturgical Assembly, or else receive God’s condemnation.

(Protopresbyter Gus George Christo, The Church’s Identity, p. 94)

Holy Things for the Holy Ones!

The Holy Things are for the Holy Ones! 

One is holy, one is Lord: Jesus Christ to the glory of God the Father. Amen.  (from the Divine Liturgy)

And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.  (Mark 10:18)

St. Nicholas Cavasilas commenting on the Divine Liturgy says:

On the point of approaching the Holy Table…partaking of the Mystery is not permitted to all …  

The holy [Mysteries] are for the holy!  

…  The faithful are called holy because of the Holy Mysteries of which they partake, because of him whose Body and Blood they receive.

Members of His Body – flesh of his flesh and bone of his bone – as long as we remain united to him and preserve our connection with him [i.e., live in communion with the altar – Ed.], we live by holiness, drawing to ourselves through the Holy Mysteries, the sanctity which comes from that Head and that Heart. But if we should cut ourselves off, if we should separate ourselves from the unity of this most holy Body, we would partake of the Holy Mysteries in vain, for life cannot flow into dead and amputated limbs. And what can cut off the members form this holy Body? It is your sins which have separated me from you, [Is. 59.2], says God. Does all sin then bring death to man? No, indeed, but deadly sin only; that is why it is called deadly. For according to St. John [1 Jn. 5.16,17] there are sins which are not deadly.

That is why Christians, if they have not committed such sins as would cut them off from Christ and and bring death, are in no way prevented from partaking of the Holy Mysteries and receiving sanctification…   (quoted in The Divine Liturgy of the Great Church, p. 107)

For St. Nicholas Cabasilas the words in the Liturgy – Holy things are for the holy! – is packed with meaning.  The “holy things” refer to the Holy Mysteries such as Holy Communion.  These Mysteries are given not for everyone, but to the Holy Ones of God, the saints.  In the Liturgy they are given to the Faithful.  The people of the parish are (and are to be!) the Holy Ones of God.  For him, it is obvious why there is a practice of “closed” Communion.  One has to desire to be among the faithful, among the Holy Ones to receive the Holy Mysteries.  They are gifts for those who seek the Lord – for those who choose and desire to live a holy life.  Holiness is not magic that can change someone into something they are not.  Holiness comes to those who choose to be united to the Holy One of God, Jesus Christ.  We maintain holiness by maintaining our unity with Christ whose Body is the Church.

Fr Alexander Schmemann in For the Life of the World leads us into the mystery:

“Holy” is the real name of God, of the God “not of scholars and philosophers,” but of the living God of faith. The knowledge about God results in definitions and distinctions. The knowledge of God leads to this one, incomprehensible, yet obvious and inescapable word: holy. And in this word we express both that God is the Absolutely Other, the One about whom we know nothing, and that He is the end of all our hunger, all our desires, the inaccessible One who mobilizes our wills, the mysterious treasure that attracts us, and there is really nothing to know but Him. “Holy” is the word, the song, the “reaction” of the Church as it enters into heaven, as it stands before the heavenly glory of God.   (Kindle Location 389-395)

For Fr Schmemann holiness is the goal of our spiritual sojourn.  When we receive the Holy Mysteries of God and become the Holy Ones of God, we have come to the very purpose of our existence.  In the Holy Mysteries we are united to the One who is Holy, Jesus Christ.

You Are the Body of Christ

Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.  (1 Corinthians 12:27)

“And therefore throughout all time, man, formed at the beginning by the Hands of God, that is, by the Son and the Spirit, becomes after the image and likeness of God: the chaff, that is, the apostasy, being cast away, while the wheat, that is, those who bear as fruit faith in God being gathered into the granary. And therefore tribulation is necessary for those who are being saved, that, in a certain way, having been threshed and kneaded together, through endurance, with the Word of God, and baked in the fire, they may be suitable for the banquet of the King, as one of ours said, when condemned to the wild beasts because of his testimony to God: ‘I am the wheat of Christ, and I am ground by the teeth of the wild beasts, that I may be found [to be] pure bread of God.’ (Irenaeus)

The perspective of this passage is oriented towards the fashioning of man in the image and likeness of God. Man, formed in the beginning by the Word and the Spirit, is continually being fashioned throughout all time into the image and likeness of God. We have seen how God bore the apostasy of man, that man might come to learn of his own mortality and acknowledge the one and only Source of life. Here the process of fashioning man into the image, salvation, is described from a different perspective: threshed by tribulation, the chaff or apostasy being cast away, man is kneaded together with Christ, and through fire the martyr is made into bread suitable for the Father’s celebration.

Just as Christ’s death and resurrection are the basis on which Christians celebrate the eucharist, so the martyr’s death, kneaded together with the Word, and resurrection, as appropriate bread, are celebrated by God. (John Behr, Asceticism and Anthropology in Irenaeus and Clement, p. 78)

What is the Divine Liturgy?

The totality of the wondrous events performed by God, in order to bring man after his disobedience back to His house and make him His own once more, is called divine economy or dispensation: ‘The divine economy of our God and Savior is the raising up of man from his fallen state and his return from the alienation produced by his disobedience to intimacy with God’ (St Basil).

This reality of our salvation in Christ is what we experience at every Divine Liturgy, for which we give thanks to God: ‘The awesome Mysteries which are performed at every assembly of the faithful and which offer salvation in abundance are called the Eucharist [‘thanksgiving’] because they consist of the recollection of many  benefactions, and reveal to us the culmination of divine providence’ (St John Chrysostom). The Divine Liturgy is the sacramental re-living of these things and the ‘recapitulation of the entire divine economy’. That is why at the end of the Divine Liturgy of St. Basil the celebrant says: “The Mystery of Your dispensation, O Christ our God, has been accomplished and perfected.’

The mystery of the divine economy was made manifest at the same time as man’s disobedience. The Master who loves mankind ‘at once saw the fall and the magnitude of the wound, and hastened to treat the wound so that it would not grow and turn into an incurable injury…spurred on by His love, not for one moment did He cease to provide for man’ (Chrysostom). Through wonderful deeds and prophetic words, God prepared man to partake in the fullness of life and love.

(Hieromonk Gregorios, The Divine Liturgy, p. 15)

Finding Christ in the Mystery

Attend

Notice! Jesus stands just before you,

waiting in the tabernacle shaped

for you–shaped precisely for you!

He burns with great desire

to enter into your heart.

 

Ignore the yammering demon

telling you “not so!” Laugh in his pinched face

and turn without fear to receive

the Jesus of quiet calm and utmost love.

Partake of His Mysteries often,

often as you can, for in Them you find

your sole, entire remedy, assuming–

of course–you would be cured. Jesus has not

impressed this hunger in your heart for nothing.

This gentle Guest of our souls

knows our every ache and misery.

He enters, desiring to find a tent, a bower

prepared for His arrival within us,

and that is all, all He asks of us.

(Scott Cairns, Love’s Immensity, pp. 138-139)

Holy Thursday (2018)

On Holy Thursday we contemplate the institution of the Mystical Supper – we realize that Christ gave His Body and Blood for the life of the world so that we can partake of salvation! The institution of the Eucharist by our Lord is something we not only think about, but actually receive when we come to the Liturgy this evening.

O how manifold and ineffable this communion! Christ became our brother, partaking of the same flesh and blood with us, and through them became like us. Through his blood He has redeemed us for Himself as true servants. He has made us His friends (cf. John 15:14-15) partaking of this blood He has bound and betrothed us to Himself as a bridegroom his bride, and become one flesh with us. He feeds us not only with blood instead of milk, but with His own body, and not only His body but also His Spirit. In so doing, He always preserves undiminished the nobility given to us by Him, leads us towards greater longing, and grants us to fulfill our desire, not only to see Him but also to touch Him, to delight in Him, to take Him into our hearts, and for each of us to hold Him in our inmost selves.

Come, He says, those of you who have set your heart on eternal life, eat My body and drink My blood (cf. John 6:53), that you may not only be in God’s image, but, by clothing yourselves in Me, the King and God of heaven, you may be eternal and heavenly gods and kings, feared by demons, admired by angels, beloved sons of the celestial Father, living forever fairer than the children of men (cf. Ps. 45:2), a delightful dwelling place for the sublime Trinity. (St. Gregory Palamas, The Homilies, pp. 464-465)

The Eucharist and Christmas

“In his worldly obedience he emptied himself, and his emptying is the only example for our path.  God who became a child, God who fled into Egypt to escape Herod,

God who sought friends and disciples in this world, God who wept from the depths of his spirit over Lazarus, who denounced the pharisees, who spoke of the fate of Jerusalem, who drove out demons, healed the sick, raised the dead, who finally, and most importantly gave his flesh and blood as food for the world, lifted up his body on the cross between the two thieves – when and at what moment did his example teach us about inner walls that separate us from the world?  He was in the world with all his Godmanhood, not with some secondary properties.  He did not keep himself, he gave himself without stint.  ‘This is my body, which is broken for you‘ – shed to the end.  

In the sacrament of the eucharist, Christ gave himself, his God-man’s body, to the world, or rather, he united the world with himself in the communion with his God-man’s body.  He made it into Godmanhood.”  (St. Maria of Parish, Mother Maria Skobtsova: Essential Writings, p. 78)